To read Chapter 3 click here.
The old lady from 304 did the best she could to spread rumours about Shalaka going missing.A police complaint had been filed. Within two hours flyers were put up in the entire city. Shalaka’s father was a wealthy man who owned a company that made mixer grinders and such appliances.
Madhu’s parents, Niyati’s parents, Sunil uncle, The old lady from 304, The secretary and nearly the entire population of Trishita had come down to the police station.
Meanwhile, the building watchman was absent today. He had called and informed the secretary that he couldn’t make it today due to high fever and what doctor said was a giant infection in his throat.
Madhuvanti found it hard to focus in school. She had always been a good student but today she was distracted. Guilt circling her neck like sweetness embraces the taste of warm caramel. She felt guilty about ignoring Shalaka lately.Every two minutes she shot a glance at Niyati who responded by bringing her eyes together and forming lines on her forehead.
The bell for the short recess seemed extremely annoying today. They had no idea that Shalaka was missing but it seemed weirdly strange to Madhu who was well-aware of the fact that Shalaka hated bunking school.The guilt didn’t last very long as they were immediately called back home after the fourth period. The police wanted to question them.
“When was the last time you saw her?”
“Umm..well, It was yesterday after school I guess-ss.”,replied a trembling Madhu.
Niyati had fever. Shalaka’s mother weeped and weeped.
“Where exactly did you see her?”
“It was near the front gate.We were standing near the watchman’s cabin and talking about school. Niyati was there too! Then we went up. I stay on the eighth floor and she stays on the seventh.. Does this matter?”
“Yes. Every piece of information is vital.”
” Yaa..Okay I understand.”, she said nervously.
The policeman noted everything down. Exact words. His balding head was shining. Sweat beads trickled down his face and were running down his neck like ants. The back of his shirt soaked.Circles of sweat on the cloth covering his armpits. His mind wandered in various directions. A girl missing. He knew what this meant usually and he didn’t want to break this news to the girl’s mother who wouldn’t stop crying and her father who wasn’t able to speak anymore.
For a split second he had given up but he decided against it. He sat straight up,pulled out his wet handkerchief and wiped his head and face off. He then summoned for the watchman.
“He’s on leave today.”, said the secretary.
“WHAAAAAT?? A watchman on leave? Are you crazy?Nine floors in this building and you have only one watchman? “, he yelled trying not to collapse.
“Well…er..He’s sick.”, came the reply.
” Bulao usko!” (“Call him!”)
The watchman arrived an hour later. His eyes bloodshot as usual. He smelled like cigarettes and loneliness. The top button of his shirt undone to let his white curly chest hair to peek out. He grinned as usual flashing his tobacco teeth. Women around him covered their noses with their duppatta to block the smell from him.
“Where is the girl?”, asked the police inspector sternly.
“Which girl?”, asked the watchman puzzled.
“Don’t pretend! The girl you kidnapped. Several residents have reported saying they suspect you.”
“No sir I haven’t done anything”, he broke off crying. ” I stay in that building but I have not touched any girl sir please believe me I am innocent sir.”, he sobbed choking on his spit.
“What do you mean you live here?”, asked the inspector now wide eyed.
” I am very poor sir. last week I lost all my money and came to Mumbai all the way from Sakwar. I did not have any place to stay. A man hooked me up with this job. I go and sleep between the seventh and eighth floor because nobody that high up uses the stairs.I come down sometimes and the gardener gives me his old stuff. Cut my tongue if I’m false but I am not sir. I am innocent.”
No one believed the creepy watchman and he was arrested. This didn’t make him sad because now he had shelter, food and a toilet in jail.
Three days later Madhuvanti went to Sunil uncle’s house to collect the bank documents she had forgotten to collect earlier. Sunil uncle was having some financial troubles. The national bank was just beside Sunaina’s post office so she had agreed to drop them off before work.
When Madhu rang Sunil uncle’s bell, there came no respone. On the fourth try a sobbing Sunil opened his door leaving Madhu wide mouthed. Shalaka returned home safe. A note was found at Sunil’s house which was going to go to Shalaka’s father this afternoon asking for ransom. Nobody checks the neighbour’s house.
The watchman was cleared of all charges and Sunil was charged for the kidnapping of Shalake,age 15.